Author Archives: Andy Daer

Violence in Israel and Palestine – Layla Moran’s Urgent Question

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The Urgent Question put by Layla Moran in Parliament yesterday exposed the gulf between government rhetoric and any attempt to deal with the real causes of the horrific violence unleashed in Gaza and elsewhere in Israel and Palestine over the past few days.  Asked time and again for the government’s response, James Cleverly told the House the government was ‘urging restraint’ on both sides.  Layla’s call for clarity on questions like support for UN Security Council resolutions was met with the bland response the government would be trying to “encourage an end to the violence”.  Asked by Layla when would be the time to recognise the state of Palestine, if not now, Cleverly just ignored the question.

The spark which ignited the current wave of violence was the proposed illegal evictions in Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem, and it was Conservative MP Crispin Blunt who challenged Cleverly to spot the difference between the UK’s response to that and its response 25 years ago to illegal settlements in Har Homa.  Cleverly replied that “the UK’s position on settlements is of long standing,” unintentionally making Blunt’s point for him.  What we did in the past had no effect, and we intend to keep doing it.

Underlining the futility of the Cleverly’s assurances that we have strong diplomatic ties with Israel and can have a “powerful” influence, Benny Gantz, the Israeli defence minister, has announced that “we will not listen to moral preaching against our duty to protect the citizens of Israel”, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says “we will inflict blows on (Hamas) that they couldn’t even dream of.”  The British government calls for restraint and a proportionate response, and Israeli ministers proudly announce they are not listening.  The disproportionate response the IDF boasts of carrying out in Gaza is explicitly outlawed under the Fourth Geneva Convention, and constitutes a war crime.

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COP26 will fail unless we grant it the powers of a supra-national council

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H.G. Wells’ ‘end of the world’ fantasy saw civilisation saved by a friendly virus, but in 1951 a new type of apocalyptic fantasy appeared in cinema screens.  In The Day the Earth Stood Still humanity was given an ultimatum: put aside petty squabbles and come together, or be annihilated.  Michael Rennie’s authoritarian ‘alien’ was clearly a depiction of human reason triumphing over the insanity of armed conflict, and the film reflected the founding principle of the United Nations; endless wars were the problem the human race faced.

We are now living the reality, and the problem isn’t wars.  We face the end not only of human civilisation but of much of the natural world, and one of the millions of species headed for extinction could be our own.  However, the message of hope from 1951 is as powerful as it was then.  By uniting behind a single purpose, the concerted efforts of the human race could overcome the challenges we face.  We don’t have the stern, but kind-hearted, alien laying down the law, so what we need instead is a world council tasked with creating a survival plan, and empowered to enforce it.

We already have the UN, but that was created after the horrors of World War II, and felt its first duty was to render impossible future invasions and annexations, so its founders sought to guarantee the sovereign right of countries to be free from the fear of invasion.  Individual national sovereignty is an idea which is now hopelessly out of date, and it has become positively harmful.

Climate summit meetings still accept that each country has a right to act as it will within its own borders.  They try to achieve consensus about what each can realistically do about climate change, but those that don’t want to sign up don’t have to.  Sovereignty is a meaningless luxury when the damage to the environment affects the entire world, and sovereignty was probably always a delusion (Imagined Communities,  Benedict Anderson, 1983), with the lines on today’s maps mostly just the residue of past wars and arranged marriages.

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Our promise to the Palestinians

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Britain appointed itself the ruling power in Palestine after the First World War mainly because it suited British geopolitical ambitions, but our government solemnly acknowledged a “sacred duty” to safeguard the rights of all the people of Palestine when British rule ended.  However, in 1948, Britain, bankrupted by World War II and dealing with the collapse of its empire, forgot its promise to the  Palestinians, and left them to their own devices.  The Jewish state of Israel was created in roughly the part of Mandate Palestine designated by the United Nations, and the rest was ceded to Egypt and Jordan.

This all changed after the 1967 war, in which the Israeli army overran large parts of neighbouring countries.  The areas they occupied when the fighting stopped were effectively the parts of Mandate Palestine which Israel had been unable to claim when it was created in 1948.  Continued military occupation is allowed in the immediate aftermath of a war, but occupied territory must be handed back, and permanent settlement by people from the conquering power is illegal.

Despite that, Israel annexed East Jerusalem and part of southern Syria immediately in June 1967, and have remained as an occupying military power in the West Bank and Gaza until the present day, some 53 year later.  During that time the Palestinians have struggled to have their rights recognised, mostly through peaceful protest and negotiations sponsored by third parties.  Some have resorted to violence, and there have been acts of terrorism, particularly in the early days of the PLO.  The Israeli response is usually disproportionate retaliation, based on the idea that ‘collective punishment’ means violent protest rebounds on the local community.  Collective punishment is illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention, which was ratified by virtually every country in the world, including Israel, but like the illegal settlements, it has been tolerated by the world community for decades, and rarely generates more than mild rebukes.

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A trip to Palestine

The racial profiling had gone a bit wrong.  We’d been walking along al Shuhada, a street in Hebron which is strictly off-limits for Palestinians, flanked by some nervous-looking Israeli Defence Force (IDF) soldiers, when one of them demanded to see some ID.  He’d picked one our small group of British Lib Dems who was obviously of Indian origin.  Our Israeli guide, ex-IDF himself, gently reminded the young soldier that as ‘internationals’ we had rights not granted to Palestinians.

Our trip to Palestine earlier this year lasted only six days, but as well as Hebron, we visited Ramallah, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, some outlying villages and towns, a Bedouin settlement threatened with demolition (but still there today), and a refugee camp for internally displaced people.  You can’t learn everything about a country in such a short time, but whatever you read or see in the media, there is no substitute for being there and meeting the people.  We were warmly received by the Palestinians we met – unsurprisingly, given that our (Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine) stated aim is to campaign for the rights of Palestinians, although it is maybe just a little surprising when you consider the past role of the British, exemplified by the Balfour Declaration in 1917, and our hasty departure from Palestine in 1948.

The context for our journey was provided on day one, at the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).  As well as working to improve the lot of the Palestinians, they collect data on casualty numbers on both sides of the ongoing conflict, and they showed us on a series of maps the steady decrease in the land occupied by Palestinians, due to the illegal (under international law) settlements in the ‘Occupied Territories’.  

The West Bank and Gaza were overrun by the IDF in a brief war more than fifty years ago, but are still subject to martial law.  We visited Military Court Watch, which independently monitors court proceedings when the accused are young Palestinians (under 18).  Typically, the charge is throwing stones at settlers, for which the penalty is usually several months in prison.  Around 200 children were in Israeli prisons when we were there; military courts operate differently from civil courts, and although evidence is not always available, the conviction rate is 99%. 

Sometimes our guides were Israeli Jews who were out of step with the current right-wing Israeli government, and they and their Palestinian counterparts impressed us with their calm determination to see their land freed from conflict.  One thing they all stressed was the effectiveness of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign.  The views and support of the outside world really matter.

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Countering the fear factor

Our ancestors were hunter-gatherers who rarely met anyone they didn’t know, and were probably wise to be cautious when they did. In modern cities we are used to seeing strangers by the thousand, but our genetic inheritance is still there, and it is easy to re-awaken the atavistic fear that people who look or sound different might be dangerous. Stirring up racism is part of a simple principle of leadership; tell people there is an external threat and set yourself up as a powerful and angry leader. If the people fear the external threat they will welcome an aggressive masterful …

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Giving voice to the millions who didn’t vote in the Referendum

What happened to the 11.9 million who didn’t vote in the referendum last year?  According to the pro-Brexit lobby’s version of ‘democracy’ they no longer exist.

Non-voters may have been unregistered, uninterested, or too busy to pop in the polling station, and others reckoned their single vote would never matter much and didn’t bother, but there is a core who were confused by the lies and misinformation and didn’t know which way to turn, after a campaign that was shoddy on both sides.

In the last few months the effects of the Brexit vote have started to become clearer.  The pound immediately lost value, banks and other financial institutions are starting to move to other European countries, there are big doubts about the future of aero-space and our foreign-owned car industry, EU citizens are already leaving and creating labour shortages in key industries and services, anti-foreigner rhetoric is making the UK an unfriendly xenophobic place, and forecasts predict a long-lasting downturn in the economy, causing tax revenue reductions which would far outweigh the mythical £350m a week gain.  Brexit champions thrived on stirring up anti-EU feelings but had no plan for the future, apart from a low-tax, low-tariff Poundshop Britain which would horrify most of us, including leave voters.  They had boasted we could easily do advantageous deals with economic super-powers like the USA and China, but the reality is stark; trade agreements take years to negotiate, and we would come off worst in deals with ‘America first’ USA and the equally self-centred China.

Despite all this, the Brexiters claim another referendum would be “anti-democratic”, because “the people have spoken.”  We all seem to be forgetting that 11.9 million didn’t speak.  

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Recent Comments

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    Personally I am not impressed by attacking or annoying the SNP for the sake of it. A totally devolved nation or independent Scotland, much the same thing withou...
  • Siv White
    Our treatment of refugees and "illegal" immigrants also comes to mind. Also children in children's homes and Barnardo's children to Australia. Vince has done a ...
  • Peter Martin
    "we may need to clarify our position on the Euro as it becomes a significant global reserve currency." It won't while the eurozone rules are an ex...
  • Peter Martin
    @ Joe, The figures on % on world trade you mentioned may well be correct. However, previously, you said: "a new Bretton Woods would require an agreem...
  • Lorenzo Cherin
    I think Sir Vince Cable, like Tony Blair, talks sense and tripe, both! I would not expel them, either of these two. Corbyn was not expelled. And he did hi...